Commission gives preliminary OK to new House, Senate district maps

Redistricting commission votes on preliminary plan

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A group of four legislative leaders and a judge met in Harrisburg on Thursday to consider new district lines for the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

The commission charged with drawing new district lines for the General Assembly broke a logjam Thursday by giving preliminary approval to boundary maps they had first seen only two hours before.

If given final approval, the new maps for 203 seats in the state House and 50 in the Senate would assure more representation -- and more influence -- for the Lehigh Valley region, at least according to Republican and Democratic officials.

The new maps were devised by the commission's chairman, Republican state appeals court judge Stephen McEwen.

Based on comments before the 4-1 vote, McEwen handed out the maps to the commission's two other Republicans and its two Democrats at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Democratic state House leader Frank Dermody joined McEwen, Republican state Senate leader Dominic Pileggi and Republican state House leader Mike Turzai in voting yes.

Dermody said he had reservations about the Senate map, as did Democratic state Senate minority leader Jay Costa, who cast the dissenting vote.

But Dermody said the commission needed to move forward, especially with a court-imposed May 12 deadline to get new maps approved.

The state Supreme Court threw out the commission's first set of maps in January.

The commission set a public hearing on the maps for 2 p.m. May 2 in the North Office Building in Harrisburg.

The new maps would alter the electoral landscape of the Lehigh Valley region.

GOP spokesman Erik Arneson said a state Senate district from Allegheny County would be shifted to Monroe County. The new 40th District would include northern Northampton County, he added.

He said areas in Lehigh and Northampton counties that had been in parts of four or five Senate districts would be concentrated into three. The 16th District would all be in Lehigh County, while the 18th District would include parts of Lehigh and Northampton counties, and include the city of Bethlehem, Arneson said.

On the state House side, Bill Patton, Dermody's press secretary, said Allentown and Mnroe County would be getting new seats.

Allentown's would come from Allegheny County and be called the 22nd District, said Patton. A sizeable portion of the district will have a Hispanic population, he said.

The 127th District in Reading will have a majority of Hispanic voters because of changing boundaries, he added.

Monroe and Berks counties also will pick up new seats. The 115th district is being moved to Monroe from Lackawanna County, and the 5th District is being moved to western Berks from Erie County, Patton said.

The speed and complexity of the proceedings had everyone scrambling for specifics from officials when the commission adjourned.

West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta brought a delegation of Swedish government officials with her to observe the proceedings, and their heads were likely spinning as they witnessed what Comitta called "democracy in action."

Reapportionment happens every 10 years to reflect population shifts.

Preliminary Pa. Senate map

Preliminary Pa. House map

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